I am a runner. The sport of athletics is very close to my heart, and I enjoy the world that I have immersed myself in through the sport. Recently, however another role model, Nigel Levine, a British 400m runner, has been found to be using performance enhancing drugs, thinking about it now makes me a little sad.
Although it may seem silly to get upset about the fact that someone I don’t even know, who is quite a small name in the sport, has been outed as a drug cheat, but it really does have an effect. Athletics plays a large part of who I am as a person so it feels a little bit like my sport and my name have been tarnished by the cheats that exist within the sport. I don’t enjoy the fact that when people find out I’m a runner, one of the first things they want to talk about is drugs, sometimes they might even joke about it and make sarcastic comments asking whether I’m going to take drugs to get to the top. When this happens, it really hurts, I understand that our sport has an issue, but there is so much more to it than that.
I know that drugs and performance enhancing substances are a problem in athletics, of course I do, it annoys me as much as it does the next person, but instead of making stupid jokes and claiming all my heroes are drugs cheats perhaps we could try and have a sincere conversation about it. There is so much more to my sport than drug taking and cheating. Why don’t we look at the positives for once?
- Gender Equality: have you ever noticed that in athletics, men and women are given equal opportunity to shine, men and women compete at the same competitions, over the same distances, in the same stadium, in front of the same crowd. In addition to this, you know what athletics has, equal prize money! What a novel idea! Perhaps next time you knock athletics off as a sport full of drugs cheats that has nothing going for it, think about the fact that this sport is seemingly years ahead of more mainstream sports such as football, rugby and, cricket where the women’s games are seemingly an after thought rather than a main event, until recently they were largely forgotten altogether.
- Accessibility – particularly on the running side of things, athletics is one of the most accessible sports in the world, all you need is a pair of trainers and an ability to push yourself and you’re on the way. Arguably, trainers aren’t even a necessity, many of the best runners in the world hail from East Africa where running barefoot is the norm. In addition to the ease of getting involved, it is very easy to watch this sport, tickets to the main stadium-based events are generally quite cheap in comparison to other main stream sports, and road races such as the London marathon are free altogether. You can literally watch your heroes such as Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge pass within touching distance.
- Community – the running community is one of the best I have ever come across, everyone respects each other, no matter how slow or fast and we all pull together to help each other. Only recently I pushed a former runner, who had recently had a stroke, around our local 5k in a wheelchair, everybody cheered us on and he absolutely loved every minute of it. This doesn’t happen in every sport, not all sports treat last place and first place the same, there are no bitter, toxic rivalries in running, just competitive friendships that push us on.
Of course, I could go on for hours about the things that are great about athletics, but my point is, whilst I accept the need to combat drugs within sport, we can’t forget all the good sides. Another point to make is that although we may have cheats within our sport, the only reason you’re hearing about them is because they’re being caught. Surely that counts for something doesn’t it? This is something that I’ve always felt very strongly about, in sports such as cycling and athletics, competitors are tested after almost every race day, especially if they do well, and are subject to numerous out of competition tests throughout the year. This could amount to a triple figure number of tests for an athlete in a single year, that threshold isn’t even threatened in other sports. Perhaps if all sports were as hot on drugs testing as athletics and cycling, they would see a rise in the number of athletes getting banned. I’d rather my sport was working for a cleaner future rather than just trying to ignore the problem.
Nevertheless, there is so much more to every sport than drugs and cheating, so next time you speak to a sportsperson ask them what they love about their sport, not what the problems are, and I assure you, you’ll learn so much more about them and their sport than if you just ask about drugs.